Well, shit

It’s feeling like you’re that well-meant gift that the recipient didn’t want and doesn’t care for, or a piece of furniture that never went with anything else in the house but is too much trouble to get rid of, or that weird book on the shelf that no-one understands and can’t be arsed to try.

1. Work.

The others in the department save seats for each other near the front of the hall for the quarterly business review and party. They don’t ask and don’t care that I don’t have a seat. I get my own. At the back. It’s better that way - I don’t have to talk to anyone.

2. Holidays.

I don’t take them because I have nowhere to go and no-one to go with. When I do eventually have to take my statutory holiday, people at work have no idea that I’ve booked the time off (even though they approved it in the system, so I knew it was ok to not turn up to work) and don’t notice I’m missing for the first few hours. My shift starts before theirs. I sit four feet from them. I am never not in.

3. Websites.

I join up and make an effort to put my best photos on there, my friendliest banter, my most open-minded conversation skills on - and don’t even get trolled.

4. Writing novels.

I send tailor-made letters and submission packages of my book to agents. More than 40 in just over 4 years. Most of them don’t even acknowledge that they’ve received the email (not even an automatic bounce-back). The others turn me down after anywhere between 2 - 4 months.

5. “Where’s mine?”

There comes a point, and mine has been about twenty years in the making, that you have to ask yourself why you’re bothering to keep calm and carry on, and why you’re not just stopping to look around and ask “Where’s mine? How come I don’t have XYZ?”. You don’t do it and don’t do it, because it’s whining and it’s self-centred, it’s conceited and childish. But one day you’ve just had enough and you wonder how anyone else has found what they want - and why you haven’t.

It must be me, right? I must be doing something wrong. I am, I know I am. I know I’m not a participant like all the people at work are. However I also know that a woman at work who is borderline agoraphobic and mostly an introvert has also dated 2 people in the 18 months I’ve known her. How does she do it when she shies away from meeting people in the first place? (This is why I’ve joined dating sites. I’ve tried to start conversations, get ‘involved’ in group discussions, but no-one replies once I start with the polite openings and then the groups themselves peter out. See? It’s me.) She bumped into one bloke at a petrol station. I fill up three times more often than she does and look how many people, let alone eligible blokes, I’ve bumped into. Clue: I’d say you could count them on one finger but you wouldn’t need that many fingers. The other bloke she met through a friend. I’ve had friends set me up before, and blind-date me, and randomly pair me off - you get to guess how many ended up in dating (clue: less than those fingers). I did like one bloke once (and we’re talking close to ten years ago now). Turns out I liked him more than he liked me, so it ended before it had even begun.

But enough moping. Forward, not back, as they say: what do you do?

a. Like more stuff.

Expose yourself to more new stuff, in the hopes that you’ll pick up new hobbies or interests. Yeah, done that over the past 4 years. Now a lot more read and a lot more aware, but still boring to everyone else, apparently.

b. Pretend to like things you don’t.

Not a fan of this. It’s lying and it’s pointless. Say you do find someone due to having a topic or hobby in common; what happens when that’s the only thing you have in common, and you have to confess that you don’t even like it that much anyway? Hmm. Answers on a postcard.

c. Resign yourself to the fact that it’s not loneliness, it’s just How Things Are.

This is looking more and more likely. Talk me out of it, I dare you.

In fact, loneliness I can deal with - I’m used to it. It’s the boredom, the being sick of your own company, that really compounds the whole problem. That and the whole ‘may as well be invisible’ thing, as detailed at the beginning of this article.

It’s getting late. I have to go to bed so I can pretend to sleep, then get up and go to work to do all those essential, tiny things that keep the world going round - all those things people aren’t even aware of. Hmm - sounds like someone I know.

TV home from home (I)

It may not surprise you to learn, based on my penchant for a particular kind of foreign film, that I also watch foreign TV. Now I know I moved back to Blighty a while ago (4 years, 26 days ago - but who’s counting?) but Hong Kong will always be a part of me and it’s hard to let go of the amusement you got used to having around for 11 years.

For this reason, I still watch the odd HK drama. The local Hong Kong channel TVB does me quite nicely, seeing as it’s like the Beeb but on a much smaller budget but has a larger pool of actors to pick from. The normal routine is that TVB produce a drama to be shown five nights a week. This runs for 21 or 30 episodes, or if it’s particularly dramatic or written to be a flagship show, then it’s 50 episodes. That’s it - end of story. But if it the ratings were really good or public reception was impressive, then a while later (like 6 - 12 months later) they’ll produce another series and call it ‘2’. And so it goes.

Not all HK dramas are gold - you can’t churn out constant hits. However, the better ones stick with you.

I’m currently watching The Exorcist’s Meter (降魔的). The usual faces have been cast, not least of all the stellar Kenneth Ma (馬國明) as the central character, Siu Ma. He’s a taxi driver with an unusually blessed, if hand-to-mouth, life. When he accidentally pees on the wrong statue (it’s a long story), he releases a genie who’s determined to pay him back by giving him his most important wish. However, this leads to all kinds of ghostly and demonic shenanigans - Hong long style. You have the long-suffering mother (except whose mother is she?), the long-dead brother, the neighbour who’s as superstitious as the Ghost Facers and a kindly uncle who’s based his entire life on scientific fact and doesn’t believe in Fung Sui nonsense, never mind ghosts and demons. Add in a TV personality who only got into her tenure on the local equivalent of Most Haunted whilst trying to be a real reporter, a huge question mark over his real parents and of course the demon-hunting genie, and you have some compelling TV. You won't get a more ‘local’ kind of story on HK TV, and I’m really enjoying the mood whiplash between Siu Ma taking the piss out of his cumbersome genie millstone one minute and then him inadvertently picking up ghostly passengers the next. Typical family arguments, hardships that normal people go through just trying to survive - it’s all there and it makes me miss HK at times. But then it also makes me giggle a bit.

Knowing the nation as I (used to) do, it’s easy for me to slip into this TV world and understand the context. It may be challenging for newbies to get their head around (especially if the only travelling they’ve done it between TV channels), but I’d highly recommend this as a bit of fluff that may well stay with you for a bit afterwards. I’m only up to episode 13 but having it on a service where I can binge watch it definitely helps!

That’s it for now. I’m sure I’ll be back soon with more waffle of the entertainment kind.


Going to the Pictures (VI)

Here we are again. It’s been an odd few months, in which I’ve watched a few movies more than once. On we go with reviews then:

The Shining (31st October 2017)

It was Hallowe’en - of course we were going to see this; the fact that it was on a local screen also helped. So what do I say about this film that’s not already been said? I still loved it and although a few ‘youths’ decided it wasn’t scary at all, I still find it very creepy in a cool way.

Verdict: 9/10. It just doesn’t wear off.

The Snowman (2nd November 2017)

Michael Fassbender is a copper out in Norway, getting tangled up in some weird goings-on with a serial killer. It’s all a bit long-winded and by the end I didn’t really care. Once good thing: Val Kilmer is back from his health-related absence. Although he looks like he’s been through the ringer and survived (yay!), they saw fit to dub his few lines. I guess that could have had something to do with the rumours that it was throat cancer, but I was just relieved to see him working again.

Verdict: 5/10; would not recommend.

Murder on the Orient Express (7th November 2017)

Beautifully shot, clever dialogue and witty repartee made this a joy to watch. As with the book there’s no real sense of urgency, but here that’s caused by relaxed editing and the backdrop of snow drifts and actors all working so well together. Sharp, funny in places, yet serious and meaningful, it certainly does the job. My fears of Kenneth Branagh not being a proper Poirot were also quashed effortlessly. Nice job all round.

Verdict: 8/10; would recommend.

The Predator (9th November 2017)

Ah, another classic. This turned 30 just now, so we had to see it again on the big screen. Still doesn’t disappoint! And the legion of young male fans who turned up in GET TO DA CHOPPA! hoodies and knew all the lines only enhanced the fun experience.

Verdict: Still great! 8.5/10; would recommend!

Professor Marston and the Wonder Women (14th November 2017)

Although billed as the circumstances surrounding the invention of Wonder Woman, this film is a lot more than that. It follows the true story of Professor William Moulton Marston and his wife who is not happy with the status quo and how women are treated in the 1940s. Add in a capable young professor’s assistant who falls first for Mrs Marston and then for her husband too and you have a power threesome who forge a new way to live. However, the decades and society in them are not as kind to the happy three as they should have been, and out of a profound need to educate and also make money to support them and their children, Professor Marston takes to writing a new kind of comic book. Whether banned and consequently burnt or deified, the comic book stirred up tremendous feeling back in the day, and shows us how history treats those who seek to repress new ways of thinking. A very interesting, very poignant look at ‘the well to-do’ and how quickly they can fall if they are not seen to conform.

Verdict: 8.5/10; would recommend! Also, pay attention to the end credits to see what happened to the real family. You may be pleasantly surprised.

Only the Brave (16th November 2017)

No disrespect to the real firefighters this was based on, but this dragged and I felt although they tried to put minutiae in that would make you like and care about the onscreen versions, it was just not enthralling. But hey - Taylor Kitsch (call me shallow)!

Verdict: 5/10; a Sunday movie if you can’t be arsed to get up or also have cleaning to do.

Justice League (16th November 2017)

Possibly the last major release until Star Wars, right? I was expecting this to be pretty shit, to be honest. I was less than impressed with the dreary, emo-laden Man of Steel, Suicide Squad was weird, chopped up stories that barely meshed and had no point other than to clear up its own mess, and the less said about Batman vs Superman the better. So going into the theatre for this I was understandably worried.

However, this was by far the best DC film since Wonder Woman. I didn't care for two of the characters and sometimes it could have been less obvious but there’s nothing wrong with Battfleck, and Wonder Woman was ace, being at the front as she should be. It brought everyone together in a credible way and wasn’t all emotional torture and bleak emo-ing out, so it gets a thumbs-up from me. I don't believe it needs a three-hour Snyder release; this one did the job without making everyone’s arses numb from sitting too long, and included what we needed to know. Seeing as everyone who hasn't already had an origin story is going to get one soon, the film did well enough without having to explain everything all the time.

I appreciated the attempts at humour and the different, less bleak and depressing tone to it all. It wasn’t full-blown comedy but it was enough to lighten the whole heart of the film to a normal level - which means it’s pretty high for a DC movie. The CGI may have been a bit cheap in places (seriously, Henry Cavill’s moustache being airbrushed out must have been the worst bit of CGI I’ve seen since the space rockets flying against a backdrop in Flash Gordon) and the replacement people (to save on physical sets and stuntmen?) weren’t always convincing, but in the end the film was pretty good. And that’s a lot for a DC movie.

Verdict: 8/10; would recommend as a good, disposable action flick that doesn’t drag you down.

And that’s it for now - the next three movies we saw were repeats, so we’re sorted. Believe it or not, I’m taking this week off and staying in for a change, but I’m sure I’ll be back soon with another update.


Home Movies (III)

Here we are with another round-up of films - ones I’ve seen at home, rather than at the pictures. It may not surprise you to learn that these are not from the USA or UK.

The Adventurers (俠盜聯盟) (2017)

Andy Lau (劉德華) in an Andy Lau film about Andy Lau being Andy Lau - only this time, the charming git who is much too suave for his own good (ngaw, stop it Andy - oh go on then, carry on) is a thief who has morals and a looong history of getting away with everything - until that one time he didn’t. Jean Reno, Eric Tsang (曾志偉), Shu Qi (舒淇) and a host of back-ups make this film twisty, turny, action-packed and fun to watch. Worth watching for a good alternative to The (original) Pink Panther meets Mission: Impossible (1996), and for the bridge scene at the end.

Verdict: 8.5/10; could have been less obvious about some things, but I liked the fact that some key moments were much more realistic than Hollywood’s saccharine view of everything.

Buddy Cops (刑警兄弟) (2016)

Pure Hong Kong-style sarcasm, fun, and social commentary as Bosco Wong (黃宗澤) plays the hot-headed, bordering-on-arsehole copper Fei who gets into trouble one too many times and is transferred to the useless department, full of coppers the HK Police can’t sack. There he is soul-shreddingly irritated by Johnny, played by comedian and TVB go-to actor ‘King’ Kong Lee (金剛). When their single parents end up together, they not only have to try to find a way not to kill each other as new brothers, but also survive “typical ‘Kong’ girlfriends” and the Big Bad, who appears to be smuggling drugs buried in coffee. Full of bawdy jokes that would make Shakespeare proud, it’s also interesting to note how local HK media sees the role of ‘girlfriends’ and how things work between the battle of the sexes. I caught myself laughing out loud a few times; evidence perhaps that you don’t need a big budget to entertain - as the two main actors who have long careers with TV company TVB would already know.

Verdict: 7.5/10; It felt like it kind of lost its way in the middle, but then quickly got back to the overall plot when it realised the time.

Running Out of Time (暗戰) (2000)

What can you say about a classic that haunts you from your bookcase? It’s like an old friend, watching me as I walk past every day, noticing the times I look at the DVD case and then remember I have Things To Do. It doesn’t get upset that I don’t have time to rewatch it, it just lets me get on with stuff, knowing that eventually I will get back to it.

And I always do. There’s something sublimely awesome about this film, something quietly and subtly one of the best films I’ve ever seen. Andy Lau (yes, him again) is a jewel thief with a very short life expectancy - or is he? Sean Lau Ching-Wan (劉青雲) is just a copper who's too good at his job, so when debonair master-criminal Andy Lau decides to use him for The Greater Good, the game is on. I won’t tell you what The Greater Good actually is, as that would definitely spoil the entire film. Suffice to say, it’s probably not what you think - and when it is exactly what you think, it makes you happy to be sad. Yes, it’s one of those films.

Verdict: 9.5/10. Enough said.

Needing You… (孤男寡女) (2000)

Not a New Year film but pretty much almost there, this comedy with romance in it (not to be confused with a romantic comedy) is a complete giggle from start to finish. Andy Lau (leave me alone - the man makes 6 films a year on average, ok?) is allegedly a ‘womaniser’ and ‘slimy creep’, and also the manager of the sales floor in an office. Enter Sammi Cheng (鄭秀文), a misunderstood woman who gets transferred in from another department. She comes with emotional baggage like a boyfriend who treats her like furniture and yet cheats on her. Manager Andy decides enough is enough and steps in to help her ditch him. A complicated dating game ensues, with him being pursed by an ex and Sammi being pursued by the richest brat you’ve ever met (he doesn’t seem that way, but wait for it). Throw in a subplot about office politics (some of the verbal smackdowns he lays on the office gossipers are incredibly on point) and a cameo from… Andy Lau (you need to see it to understand) and you have a pretty funny escapade that leaves you smiling.

Verdict: 8/10. Seeing Sammi get her own back on the boyfriend and Andy kick the shit out of his own car in frustration never gets old - and for the bloopers they left in because, hey, why not?

Cat and Mouse (老鼠愛上貓) (2003)

Most definitely a New Year film, this has all the hallmarks of a classic rip-roaring piss take; Hong Kong actors playing ‘serious’ period drama characters, a very real, very snowy foreign film set (Beijing), witty Cantonese one-liners, gurning or doing complete scenes with their faces being the dialogue - what’s not to laugh at? Cecilia Cheung (張栢芝) is a dude in charge of a local gang complete with comfort women and henchmen, who the incredibly smart security officer of the royal court, Andy Lau, doesn’t even realise is in disguise. Andy gets bored of his prefecture being crime-free (even his sword protests not being used any more) and goes on holiday to find trouble. He lands right in it when he uncovers a plot by other courts to have his judge assassinated - and him too. Chapman To is brilliantly funny in this as Cheung’s inventive sidekick, and the banter that goes on between him and the other ‘henchmen’ is immeasurably hilarious. Honourable mention goes to Lei Bing Bing for playing perhaps the only straight face in the whole farce. Cecilia Cheung gets to flex some comedy muscles and excels.

Verdict: 9/10. Simple harmless fun from start to finish.

Firestorm (風暴) (2013)

Wow. How many buildings, cars, people, or innocent plant pots can you blow up over the course of 2 hours? Stick with this film to find out. Seriously, it’s a wonder Michael Bay didn’t call and ask for his explosives budget back.

Andy Lau Is a copper who’s been after The Big Bad, a gangster, for a while. After a poor sap with no way out ends up in jail, Andy becomes god-father to his daughter and looks after the autistic child with the usual patented Andy Perfection until her father is released. Meanwhile The Big Bad is ramping up his attacks and Andy simply Won’t Stand For It - but every time they try to arrest him, he slips their grasp or is released on a technicality. However, Andy is determined to stand firm and get him the right way. Or is he? When people stoop so low as to go after innocent (and uncomprehending) children, Andy decides perhaps it’s time to cheat just a little. But what do you do when it goes wrong? Things blow up, apparently - a lot of things, and often. But I have to say, it’s all in a day’s work and it doesn’t get boring at all.

Verdict: 8.5/10 - some awesomely planned action scenes, some moral ambiguity and an interesting ending. Bring on the blu ray.

Wesley’s Mysterious Files (衛斯理藍血人) (2002)

Oh. My. Life. You want a Syfy Original Movie with people forced to speak foreign languages (badly), poor CGI / FX and gaping plot holes? Then this is the film for you. I don’t know how many times I laughed, but I probably wasn’t supposed to. In a so-bad-it’s-good way, I did enjoy this film. After all, how many blue-blooded aliens get to kill off the director of the film when he’s doing his cameo?

Verdict: 5.5/10; sorry - making people struggle on in a foreign language is not my idea of a good time. They could have just spoken their own and made up some universal translator stolen from the blue-blooded aliens to get around it. *shrugs*

Peace Breaker (破局) (2017)

Probably the best kept secret of 2017, you won’t find this film listed on Aaron Kwok (郭富城)’s filmography or in fact anyone else’s. Which is a shame, because this remake of the Korean smash hit A Hard Day (走到盡頭) from 2014 is at times very black comedy, abruptly heart-breaking mood whiplash, and most of the time a gripping thriller. I say ‘gripping’ because I spent half of the film shouting advice at the TV (which Aaron ignored - rude) and the other half squeezing the life out of a cushion through sheer frustration. I can’t remember how many times I yelled ‘you’ve got X minutes left to find a way to fuck him over!’. Worth a watch for the coffin scene alone, anyone who’s ever started out a shitty day that got worse as the hours dragged on will probably enjoy this film. It almost slipped into parody once or twice, but then again, this was filmed out in Malaysia to get around the rigid Chinese censorship, so anything goes when you’re not forced to make everything about serving the Party well and being a good dog.

The trailer on YouTube is probably the only marketing this film is going to get - a great shame if you want both a giggle and an action-packed fun night in. And I have to say - a very good ending. Make sure you watch the credits to see the deleted scenes.

Verdict: 8/10 - it’s just so good to see Aaron Kwok in a new movie, but this stands up as one of the better ones.

That’s it for now - going to have to come back here soon and update with Cineworld adventures.


Going to the Pictures (V)

It’s pretty much November. In about 6 weeks I’ll have had my Cineworld card for a whole year. Apparently I get a replacement card in black, more discounts, and all the sales jazz. However, it’s becoming apparent that getting this card in the first place was one of the best decisions I’ve made in a long time.

But that’s a post for another day. What we want here is reviews, right? Plus a record of what I’ve seen and how I felt about it. So on with the show:

Blade Runner 2049 (28th September 2017)

Warning: this review contains SPOILERS.

Skip to the verdict if you don’t want to know.

I was really looking forward to this. Being a fan of the original (how many times have I used the ‘too bad she won’t live - but then again, who does?’ line on people?), and having rewatched it just the week before, I had hopes that we were in for something of the same. Well, SPOILERS, but yeah, it was pretty much the same - insomuch as Harrison Ford gets the girl and all the replicants die. Same-same. And it took 2.5 hours to get there. It felt like the film was 6 weeks long - and for the most part I felt it totally missed the point on why the film was there and went after other plot threads. For example, I thought the idea of the original, and hopefully this sequel (so glad it wasn’t a reboot) was that we were supposed to be exploring the difference between humans and replicants - what makes humans better, or superior? Why do some people believe that slavery of ‘lesser’ species is ok? Do replicants count as a species, and is that because they now come with implanted emotions to make them easier to handle? Do replicants just follow their programming or do they have limited free will, the same as humans? Does Ryan Gosling’s character, K, have a digital girlfriend in his pocket because he wants love, or because he thinks he should want love because it’s what a human might do and he thinks he should be emulating them? And why does he regard humans as something to emulate? Because he was programmed to, or because he likes any of them? And the girlfriend in the pocket - is she only following her programming doing what she was created for, or does she genuinely feel anything for him, a replicant? Is such a thing possible? The idea that replicants have somehow become the slaves of the human race, made by a completely unnecessary bordering-on-cameo by Jared Leto (who I swear is only hired these days to be weird on set and method-act his way through a few lines that would have been better-used coming from another character that we cared about), was disturbing - as anything is when the word ‘slave’ is used. But then the film veered off into a murder-mystery-cum-resistance flick while only paying lip-service (or camera-service) to the bigger themes, and the point of the movie. And it took its time. I mean, when we got to the point where Harrison Ford shared his feelings for cheese in what amounted to a conversation with absolutely no plot-steering or in fact use in the film, I sat there thinking ‘that’s all very nice, Deckard, but can we have a movie now?’. I could have watched 3 episodes of Star Trek (any Star Trek) in that time and had more metaphysical questions or head-scratchers posed to make me wonder. It was beautifully shot, excellently put together; the CGI department, the wardrobe, make-up, physical effects and all other people involved behind the scenes should all get Oscars. I’m not joking. It was atmospheric and wonderfully executed. Only the plot and the floundering, swimming-through-treacle timing of it all let it down for me. That, and the blatant disregard for why we’re here in the first place.

Verdict: 5/10. And those 5 are for the effects and the effort everyone put into it.

The Death of Stalin (12th October 2017)

I cannot remember the last time I laughed so much in a movie theatre (after things like Kingsman movies). This reconstruction of the power struggle that must have occurred after the actual death of Joseph Stalin in 1953 was hilarious, insightful, and downright slapstick minus the pratfalls. A mixture of English, American and Russian actors with complete disregard of accents or acting styles brought so many belly-laughs from the audience that there were moments when we missed the next line, so loud was the enjoyment. Michael Palin, Steve Buscemi, Jason Isaacs (HILARIOUS), Jeffrey Tambor, Paddy Considine - effortless fun and a brilliant way to bring a version of history to life. And if the English actors play the pawns, the Americans the back-stabbing politicians and the Russians ‘the people’, then who’s to read into that? It was so much fun I cannot wait for the blu ray.

Verdict: 9.5/10; would recommend to anyone who enjoys comedy, history, a fun night in/out, wordplay, witty dialogue, or just plain unashamed entertainment.

The Lego Ninjago Movie (19th October 2017)

A kids’ film, yes. However, it also had quote a few references to keep older people happy. Not as much fun as The Lego Batman Movie, this was however enough to keep up giggling all the way through. Jackie Chan is excellent as Master Wu, and while some of the film was predictable, we do have to remember the target audience.

Verdict: 7.5/10; would recommend as a Sunday afternoon movie or to anyone under 9.

Thor: Ragnarok (24th October 2017)

Fun, bright, colourful, cheerful, hopeful, and a sense of humour a mile wide. It feels completely disposable, except that the ramifications of what went down in the end will, I suspect, have a big impact on what happens next in the Marvel cinematic universe. The only thing that bugged me was that, at times, it felt like Thor was a little out of character; a few too many Earth-isms, maybe, a few too many quips and very Earthlike idioms. However, Jeff Goldblum was Jeff Goldblum awesome as always, and the unexpected characters were a delight. A perfect antidote to more serious (and more soul-destroyingly meaningful and dreary, distopian bollocks.

Verdict: 9/10. How much fun can you have at Marvel’s expense?

Geostorm (26th October 2017)

Full disclosure: we saw the trailer for this before another film and went ‘that looks so shit! We have to watch it!. It truly appears to be a Syfy Original Movie in the vein of Piranhaconda, Two-Headed Shark Attack, or Zombeavers. Unfortunately, it has nothing of the self-deprecating tongue-in-cheek humour, and doesn’t seem to realise it’s not supposed to be a real movie. I would only recommend this film if there’s a drinking game to go with it, centred around manly man having manly male emotions (such as Emo Tears of Unshed Man Pain), wasting time with manly emotional dialogue, and saving the ‘golden retriever’ of the movie when he was clearly slated to die. The only saving grace(s) was the Secret Service agent who was almost comically badass, and the bafflingly always-in-the-right-place-at-the-right-time women in charge of the International Space Station. Finally, will someone explain to me why people keep taking projectile weapons such as GUNS onto a pressurised space station?

Verdict: 4/10. I think that’s a new low.

That’ll do me a for a bit. We have more to come, believe me.